Monthly Archives: August 2012

When You Don’t Know What to Do .

Some situations find us at a dead end. We may face conditions similar to those we have found our way through before – but this time seem insurmountable. An unforeseen costly bill crashes your budget. Layoffs are announced, and the job you have long thought to be secure is imperiled or eliminated. A family member has an emergency that strains their own resources and those of the whole family. The doctor delivers a dreadful diagnosis and follows with a grim prognosis. Your crisis could be any one of these or something totally foreign to anything you have anticipated. You have survived severe trials before, but this time no strategies readily come to mind. You just don’t know what to do!

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Cringing paralysis is a frequent response that offers little hope and can worsen the situation. Clutching glib answers from opportunistic predators may feed on false hope, leading to bad results. Ignoring the challenge and forging ahead might give the illusion of success, but ultimately ends in exhaustion and emptiness. The crisis is real. You have to do something. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

God’s people in Judah found themselves on extremely perilous ground at the same time that Israel was besieged by their eventual conquerors, the Assyrians. Judah had known a time of relative peace. Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, had promoted faith in God, as his father Asa had done. The southern kingdom of Judah was enjoying a lengthy period of prosperity. As the northern kingdom of Israel appeared soon to be defeated by Assyria, a trio of Judah’s neighboring countries plotted war against Judah. Moab, Ammon, and Edom sent a massive military force to invade Judah and to capture Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat’s military analysts advised him that the invaders posed an overwhelming threat, and that they had achieved a formidable surprise assault. No viable options for defense from the attack were evident. The situation seemed to be devastatingly hopeless.

Jehoshaphat’s response was neither panic nor paralysis. Instead, the king who sent teams of priests and teachers into the towns of Judah to grow and develop the faith of God’s people led them to depend on their faith in God when facing such a crippling dilemma. Jehoshaphat figured out what to do when he didn’t know what to do, and we can learn to do what he did when we face arresting situations.

First, the king called the people of Judah to gather for worship, praise of God, and personal devotion. Jehoshaphat called for a period of fasting throughout the kingdom, and for as many as possible to assemble in Jerusalem at the Temple. The response was striking: “The people of Judah came together to ask the LORD for help; they came from every town in Judah.” (2 Chronicles 20:4 NCV) Rather than steeling themselves to take on a superior army with their own resources, or fleeing in panic, or languishing in self-pity, they came together with other people of faith and drew closer to God.

Second, Jehoshaphat led the people to pray for God’s guidance and help. He admitted that he didn’t know what to do, but he staked his future on God’s grace and goodness that had always been sufficient for their deliverance in the past. He did this in a spirit of faithful worship and thanksgiving to God as the people crowded the Temple in Jerusalem: “Jehoshaphat stood up, {6} and he said, “LORD, God of our ancestors, you are the God in heaven. You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. You have power and strength.. {12b} We have no power against this large army that is attacking us. We don’t know what to do, so we look to you for help.” {13} All the men of Judah stood before the LORD with their babies, wives, and children.” (2 Chronicles 20:5b-6, 12b-13 NCV) The worshipping congregation shared genuine expectation that God would hear their prayers and that God would do what they could not do by themselves.

Third, everyone attentively listened for what God had to say to them in this hour of need. God’s word did not come through expected channels – not the king, not any priests or prophets, but through a layman. He was from a good family, a descendant ofAsaph, a popular songwriter and choirmaster renowned for strengthening the faith of God’s people and enriching their worship of God. He offered God’s word of hope and assurance: “Then the Spirit of the LORD entered Jahaziel. [and He]

stood up in the meeting. {15} He said, ‘Listen to me, King Jehoshaphat and all you people living in Judah and Jerusalem. The LORD says this to you: “Don’t be afraid or discouraged.. {17b} Just stand strong in your places, and you will see the LORD save you. Judah and Jerusalem, don’t be afraid or discouraged, because the LORD is with you.”‘” (2 Chronicles 20:14-15a, 17b NCV) Hope did not come through military strategists, or political counselors, or “focus groups,” or anyone usually consulted in difficult times. God’s word came through a godly member of the worshipping people. (Who do you listen to when you don’t know what to do? Who do you find with God’s word of hope to share?)

Fourth, Jehoshaphat and the people acted on what they had heard from God, worshipping and praising God while they were busy doing what God had led them to do. This is true faith. They did not just remain gathered in Jerusalem celebrating the wonderful worship service they had witnessed. They marched out to meet the overwhelming force attacking them, actively mindful of God all the while. But the triple alliance turned on each other, obliterating the invading armies. Judah was spared from engaging in warfare. Their obedience to God was saturated with acknowledgement of their dependence upon God’s grace: “Jehoshaphat bowed face down on the ground. All the people of Judah and Jerusalem bowed down before the LORD and worshiped him.. {21b} Then he chose men to be singers to the LORD, to praise him because he is holy and wonderful. As they marched in front of the army, they said, ‘Thank the LORD, because his love continues forever.'” (2 Chronicles 20:18, 21b NCV) Note that they gave thanks to God and recalled God’s unfailing love as they were marching toward armies that outnumbered them. To an outside observer, they appeared to be heading into sure defeat. But God was with them, and that made all the difference. Their active expressions of faith and praise kept their hope alive and equipped them to do what God led them to do.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Turn to God, especially with a community of faith. Pray, admitting your limitations. Listen attentively for God’s assurance. Act – stake your life – on what God says to do. Continue to thank God and worship him as you do what he says. How about trying this when you are at your wits end? Much better, practice doing it before you find yourself not knowing what to do!

-J. Edward Culpepper

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